Aims: This literature review aims to illustrate the variety and multitude of studies showing that participation in arts activities and clinical arts interventions can be beneficial for citizens with mental and physical health problems. The article is focused on mental health benefits because this is an emerging field in the Nordic countries where evidence is demanded from national health agencies that face an increasing number of citizens with poor mental health and a need for non-medical interventions and programmes.
Methods: A total of 20 articles of interest were drawn from a wider literature review. Studies were identified through the search engines: Cochrane Library, Primo, Ebscohost, ProQuest, Web of Science, CINAHL, PsycINFO, PubMed and Design and Applied Arts Index. Search words included the following: arts engagement + health/hospital/recovery, arts + hospital/evidence/wellbeing, evidence-based health practice, participatory arts for wellbeing, health + poetry/literature/dance/singing/music/community arts, arts health cost-effectiveness and creative art or creative activity + health/hospital/recovery/mental health. The inclusion criteria for studies were (1) peer review and (2) empirical data.
Results: The studies document that participation in activities in a spectrum from clinical arts interventions to non-clinical participatory arts programmes is beneficial and an effective way of using engagement in the arts to promote holistic approaches with health benefits. Engagement in specially designed arts activities or arts therapies can reduce physical symptoms and improve mental health issues.
Conclusion: Based on the growing evidence of the arts as a tool for enhancing mental health wellbeing, and in line with the global challenges in health, we suggest that participatory arts activities and clinical arts interventions are made more widely available in health and social settings. It is well-documented that such activities can be used as non-medical interventions to promote public health and wellbeing.
Keywords: arts activities; arts on prescription; arts participation; clinical interventions; health; mental health; wellbeing.